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Harbor Patrol funding reaches possible solution

County CEO, sheriff to identify potential savings, what needs sworn deputies.

November 12, 2010|By Joseph Serna, joseph.serna@latimes.com

NEWPORT BEACH — About 35 years and 17 reports later, a solution to the Orange County Sheriff's Department Harbor Patrol funding issues could be taking shape.

With critics of the department's current model arguing that the its biggest funding source — Orange County's parks fund — uses too much countywide money that services too few people, county supervisors are considering whether to require the Sheriff's Department to share the burden.

In a report submitted to the board of supervisors Tuesday, county auditors took a detailed look at the funding for the Harbor Patrol, which services Newport Beach, Dana Point and Huntington Harbour.

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On Tuesday the board recommended that county CEO Thomas Mauk meet with Sheriff Sandra Hutchens. The two are tasked with hashing out which duties require sworn deputies, where they're needed and where savings can identified.

The goal is to reach an agreement on partial funding from the Sheriff's Department for staffing — about $2.5 million a year.

Mauk would then report to a board subcommittee, which would make recommendations to the full board of supervisors.

"Sheriff's functions are sheriff budgets. If the sheriff needs more money, they have the opportunity to have a fair and legitimate discussion," said Supervisor Shawn Nelson. "The parks department has no obligation to pay for this stuff and shouldn't be."

Nelson's argument isn't new, but with funding and law enforcement laws changing over the last 30 years, the county found itself cornered with how to pay for patrolling the county's three harbors.

The issue's taken on more urgency since the Sheriff's Department renegotiated pay and pensions in 2001 and the county has had to contribute more into the pension fund due to the sluggish economy.

Just 10 years ago, the Harbor Patrol budget was roughly half of what it is now.

The harbor patrol cost about $12 million this past fiscal year, with more than 90% going to employee salaries, benefits and expenses. The county's park fund pays for 55%, or $6.6 million. The rest of the cost is split between the Newport Tidelands Fund ($1.8 million) and the Dana Point Tidelands Fund ($3.6 million).

What is now known as the O.C. Parks Fund was once part of the Orange County Harbor District, established in 1933.

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